Goose Island’s venerable Bourbon County Brand Stout and its variants won’t be available until November, but the 2021 lineup was announced this week. One notable aspect of this group (besides the fact that there’s no barleywine in the mix) is Goose Island’s use of several different barrel types and barrel-aging techniques. Only three of the eight stouts employ the use of additional (non-wood) ingredients. The majority of the variants use different barrel and wood aging strategies to create what figures to be wildly different flavor profiles.
“Without the bourbon barrels and the amazing relationships we’ve built over the years, Bourbon County Stout would not be where it is today,” said Mike Siegel, “Barrels and Beyond Beer Innovations Manager” at Chicago-based Goose Island Beer Co. “As you’ll see in this year’s lineup, four of our eight variants are barrel-forward, meaning we age our imperial stout in a variety of premium or rare barrels including barrels that held Blanton’s Original Single Barrel Bourbon or Old Forester’s 150th Anniversary Bourbon. Each imparts unique flavor complexities in the beer and elevates our original imperial stout. We want the wood characteristics from the barrel and the whiskey it held to come through to really tell the flavor story.”
Bourbon County Stout
Details: Stout aged in a variety of bourbon barrels for 8 to 14 months.
Expectation: Goose Island doesn’t really ever miss with the standard variant. I don’t expect a miss in 2021 either.
Bourbon County Cherry Wood Stout
Details: Goose Island took Bourbon County Stout and finished it with honeycomb-shaped cherry wood. It’s a process they’ve never attempted before.
Expectation: Using cherry wood, instead of actual cherries, is an intriguing twist. I expect cherry flavor to be there, but not sure to what level. More complex? More subtle? So many questions.
“We continue to innovate through our barrel program while paying respect to the incredible bourbon barrels our spirits partners supply us each year, and now we offer our first Bourbon County variant to use a non-oak hardwood for great flavor expression,” added Siegel. “Cherry Wood Stout is a prime example of that innovation.”
Bourbon County Reserve 150 Stout
Details: Aged for a year in Old Forester 150th Anniversary Bourbon barrels. These exceptional barrels were hand selected by Old Forester to create the extremely limited bourbon.
Expectation: Barrel-forward characteristics are a good thing if the barrels are hand selected. Early tasting notes from the brewery say that it’s got that and a glorious combination of flavors like chocolate, vanilla, coconut, molasses, almond and berry.
Bourbon County Double Barrel Toasted Barrel Stout
Details: Aged first for a year in Elijah Craig Small Batch barrels and then another year in Elijah Craig Toasted Bourbon barrels.
Expectation: Every year one variant generates more buzz than the rest. I’m guessing this is the one to do that in 2021. Toasted barrels can add vanilla and spice to a bourbon’s flavor, so it will be interesting to see what those barrels do to the stout. I’m guessing that this is one complex Bourbon County Stout.
Bourbon County Reserve Blanton’s Stout
Details: Aged for 18 months in barrels used to make Blanton’s Original Single Barrel Bourbon.
Expectations: As a big fan of Blanton’s, I’m particularly excited about this variant and the dark chocolate and oak flavors claimed in tasting notes from the brewery.
Bourbon County Classic Cola Stout
Details: A lot goes into this one. The stout is made with lime and orange juice and zest, coriander, cassia bark, nutmeg, brown sugar and vanilla.
Expectations: Every year one variant also stands out as the most polarizing, and this experimental brew will likely fill that role. The response to Classic Cola Stout, which mimics the flavor of a whisky cola, should be interesting.
Bourbon County Fourteen Stout
Details: A nod to the 2014 Proprietor’s Bourbon County Stout. It is made with cassia bark, cocoa nibs, panela sugar and coconut water, and with rye added to the mash bill for a little bit of spice.
Expectations: The 2014 Proprietor’s was decadently good, and there’s no reason to believe this version won’t be.
Proprietor’s Bourbon County Stout
Details: Made with strawberries, vanilla and coconut. This year’s “prop” was created by Emily Kosmal, who also came up with the concepts behind 2016 Proprietor’s and 2020 Proprietor’s.
Expectations: Dessert in a bottle. Tasting notes from the brewery hint at strawberry shortcake with a combination of vanilla and strawberry fruitiness.